Stephen Blea: Those Kids Are My Kids

DENVER (February 10, 2018) Denver’s WBC (World Boxing Council) and Colorado Boxing Commission (Josef Mason) referee and judge, Stephen Blea, celebrates his 60th birthday today with 50 of those years dedicated to boxing. While for Blea ‘Boxing is my Life’, he’s far more than that to those of us who know him well. Every kid that has ever boxed under his guidance or he’s come in contact with, remains special to him. Stephen Blea proudly says, “Those kids are my kids”. Blea has positively impacted the lives of nearly everyone he’s come in contact.

(L) Dolores Blea and Samuel Blea, Jr

Stephen Blea is one of 3 sons (Stephen, Salvador and the late Alfred) and two daughters (Diane and Sonya) born to Dolores Barrientos-Blea and the late Samuel Blea, Jr. His dad was a strict, hard-working, no nonsense man who demanded all of his children be educated. Stephen recalls being shown little physical affection by his dad as he was growing up, that in no way reflecting on how close of a relationship the two shared. “My dad was very strict”, began Blea. “He didn’t take crap from nobody. He worked hard and was supportive as he could be. It was the way he was brought up, not showing affection to his boys. It was funny to see him become the wonderful grandpa who showered his grandkids with so much love and affection. I often kidded him on how that was not the same man who raised us”.

Samuel Blea, Jr. began employment as a construction laborer who graduated to foreman and later became one of the first Hispanic crane operators in Colorado. That progression demanded time away from the family as he found consistent work in Arizona. Samuel Blea either drove or flew home every weekend to spend time with his wife Dolores, who was left to run the household duties. Samuel and Dolores Blea were married for almost 61 years before Samuel Blea, Jr. passed away on October 22, 2017. Dolores Blea still resides in the family home of 52 years.

Stephen Blea grew up on Denver’s ‘West Side’, spending lots of time with his grandmother, Maria Corasco. It was during those years that he began boxing with Catholic boxing programs, that a stickler with his mother Dolores, a devoted Jehovah’s Witness. His dad was as supportive as he could be without taking on his mom. Red Thompson was an early Blea mentor, he of the St. Joe’s Boxing program. Stephen Blea never lost an amateur boxing match before returning home from the U.S. Marine Corps. That loss came in the finals of the 1979 Colorado State Golden Gloves Tournament when Blea was 21 years-old. He would later retire with an impressive amateur boxing record of 49-6. He would marry that same year and begin working full-time to support his growing family. He would temporarily exit boxing.

When 24 years-old Blea got the itch to box again, sharing the idea with his dad Samuel who demanded he dedicate himself if he were serious. Blea went to see Coach Joe Garcia of the CGGC (Colorado Golden Gloves Charities) and his new invigoration showed. In 1982, he was invited to the ‘All-Comers Camp’, held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Blea entered the camp unranked at 132 lbs. but exited ranked #5 in the country. Having a family to feed, the realization of him pursuing boxing at the level demanded would mean a commitment he just could not make, his family the #1 priority. “If I have one regret in life, it would be my not concentrating on boxing after returning home after completing my U.S. Marine military duties. I don’t regret marrying or having my children (daughters Nicole, Gina and Angela with sons Alfred and Tyrone) but had I followed my natural instincts, who knows how far I could’ve gone. I had numerous offers to turn pro but knew I was not prepared”.

Longtime fiancé Raylene Carbone with Stephen Blea

In 1984, Blea made the decision to train area kids to box. His amateur coaching career was set to begin after a conversation with legendary Denver heavyweight Ron Lyle, who ran ‘Ron Lyle’s Ringside’ gym. Lyle offered Blea the opportunity to coach the juniors. There’s a unique story behind that beginning that can best be told by Blea himself. That venture was a learning experience in more ways than one, the payments parents submitted by check more often than not included the attachment, ‘insufficient funds’. The Lyle gym would soon close, leaving Blea to return to the CGGC gym located at the rec center on 35th & Pecos. From 1985-1988, that junior team made waves nationwide. Blea became the Colorado Silver Gloves and USA Boxing Junior Olympics coordinator as well as coaching his juniors. 1989 saw the CGGC gym close, forcing him to conduct training in the basement of his home. Stephen Blea officially retired in 2014, having helped numerous boxers’ find monies to help further their education. Further accolades include Blea coaching the 2008 USA Boxing Junior World Team and 2010 USA vs Italy II dual competition. All in all, Stephen Blea coached 26 junior and senior National Champions during a stellar amateur coaching career.

The pressure of it all led to a frustrated Stephen Blea come unglued after one of his boxer’s lost a match he felt was because of poor judging/officiating. “My cousin (Colorado GG HOF Official) Margarito ‘Mugsy’ Berzoza took me aside and in no uncertain terms told me to ‘either quit whining, become a referee/judge or keep your mouth shut. Make a difference!”. Those words rang true in Blea’s head and he decided to quit coaching and concentrate on making that difference. Berzoza introduced Blea to the late (Colorado GG HOF Official) John Ulibarri who embraced the addition of Blea who was unceremoniously introduced to officiating by immediately thrown into deep water. “I can’t lie”, says Blea. “I learned and learned quickly, making plenty of mistakes along the way. I became a student of the game, watching others I felt doing excellent work as often as possible. My only objective was to never allow any kid to get hurt inside the ring if it could be avoided”.

Blea became pretty good at referring/judging and became the first AIBA (Amateur International Boxing Association) official representing Colorado and the region. In the late 90‘s, Blea was sent to officiate several national tournaments where he sometimes coached as well as officiated. This would later become a major point of contention that would ultimately lead to him being removed as an AIBA official, a sore spot in conversations. Blea would return to coach amateur boxers at the Denver Police Brotherhood (C.C. Edwards) in 2003 becoming Head Coach from 2005-to 2012, his affiliation with that program spanning some 20 years.

(L-R) Gabriel Santistevan, Stephen Blea, Raylene Carbone, WBC Cares Colorado

Stephen Blea then became a referee/judge on a full-time basis with the State of Colorado and in 2003 he contacted WBC (World Boxing Council) President Jose Sulaiman in hopes of joining that organization. Blea began working for the WBC in 2004 and remains a highly respected WBC official who has refereed/judged countless World Championship bouts in more than 19 countries. In addition he successfully runs the WBC Cares Colorado program along with long-time fiancé, Raylene Carbone.

Having dedicated his life to boxing giving his time, money and love to many boxers and their families, Stephen Blea has so much more to his life story. You can/should ask anyone he’s come in contact with just how special the man truly is. I’ve come to value our longtime friendship and have personally seen him reach deep into his own pockets to help out persons, not just boxer’s, in need. His tireless work with the WBC Cares Colorado program, individuals, and boxing clubs needing help goes unprecedented. There has never been a kid or organization denied help from the WBC Cares Colorado program. For his continued efforts in support of the Colorado Golden Gloves, Stephen Blea was a well-deserved 2015 Colorado Golden Gloves HOF inductee.

Today, February 10, Stephen Blea turns 60 years-old with 50 of those years dedicated to boxing. That’s quite an amazing achievement but to him it simply, comes with the territory. Blea not only ‘talks the talk’ but ‘walks the walk’ when it comes to helping boxers and their families. The guy has a big heart and there are none who can/would dispute that. His kindness and generosity are second to none. When hearing the name Stephen Blea think of his own words, ‘Those kids are my kids’, it’s how he’d like to be remembered.

Courtesy, Vic Vickers

Happy 60th Birthday, my friend. Much love!